How To

How To Order Off of a “Secret Menu” Without Being an A$%hole.

Starbucks
Photo by Marco Paköeningrat

Occasionally, posts about “secret menus” go around, promising delicious and rarely-beheld treats from food and beverage chains. Sounds exciting, right? You’re probably tired of the same old menu items at fast food restaurants.

Ordering off of these secret menus can be problematic, though. In fact, there are people who are firmly in the “if you try to order off of a ‘secret menu’, you’re probably an asshole” camp. Valid reasons uphold this opinion: most of these items aren’t well-known to employees, which creates confusion; some, the employees aren’t even permitted to make. Lines get held up, people get frustrated. It seems like a bad idea all around.

HOWEVER. As a former barista for the big green mermaid siren, I have good news. Many times, you can get these delectable secret menu items without being an asshole, if you just follow a few simple guidelines:

1. Assume that the secret menu is so secret that the employees have no idea it exists. Some things, like the “secret” unlisted sizes, the employees will know about; however, when it comes to alternative ways to put together the ingredients, most places do not give that training beyond generic “how to put together a customized order” training. There’s probably no section called “stuff your customers might order because they read about it on the internet.” Therefore, you will need to know exactly what goes into your secret menu item, because odds are good that the employees won’t.

2. Order the item not as a known menu item, but as a custom order. Because of #1, you can’t stroll into a place and order “secret menu” items like regular menu items, but at places like Starbucks or Chipotle, getting a custom order is no big thang. So, don’t think of it as ordering a “Hipster Chai” (wtfeven), think of it as ordering a soy chai with white mocha and two shots of espresso. They’ll be more than happy to accommodate that. If you’re not sure how custom orders go down at a certain restaurant, ask if they’re able to make it first.

Also, if something has a risque or offensive name, like the “McGangbang” or the “Dirty Orgasm,” remember that the person taking your order might not be down with your usage of potentially offensive terms.

3. If it’s possible to order the regular menu items and put it together yourself, do that. I saw an article about the McD’s “secret menu” and, as a former drive-thru worker, some of the items made me roll my eyes hard. The one that took the cake for me was the “McCrepe,” in which the customer is supposed to ask the employee to scoop the fruit parfait on top of some hotcakes. What the what? You can’t do that for yourself when you sit down to eat?

Why this kind of thing is a problem: it’s rude to the employees and other customers behind you because it’s going to interrupt what is designed to be an efficient workflow, slowing everything down for no real benefit to you. Same with sticking two sandwiches together, etc. Don’t be That Person holding everyone up.

4. If the employee says they can’t do it, don’t argue (most of the time). I know for a fact that we wouldn’t have been allowed to make some of those Starbucks “secret menu” items because we weren’t allowed to open up, say, biscotti and throw it into the blender with a Frappuccino. If some employees somewhere violated regulations, that doesn’t mean the people at your store will or should. The only time I’d ever make a stink about not being able to get a “secret menu” item would be if I ordered it by their standards for a custom order. Otherwise, don’t press it–not everyone who posts secret menu recipes on the internet knows what they’re talking about.

Did I leave anything out? Have you tried any “secret menu” items? (And if so, how’d that go?)

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  • http://www.jrblogs.com JR

    Potbelly sandwiches have some pretty cool secret items, but the stores vary them. Like the article says it’s best to phrase it as a question, “Do you guys do a version of the Italian mixed with the pizza sometimes called a Sicilian?” If they do then they are usually excited to tell you about their twist on it. Be ready to pay extra too if you want the secret sauce.

    • Insatiable Booksluts

      I’m super curious–what’s the secret sauce?

      • http://www.jrblogs.com JR

        I didn’t mean it literally. :) I just meant potbelly charges and “extra meat” when you go on the secret menu. Although their sauces are good.

        • Insatiable Booksluts

          DANG. I like Potbelly and I was kind of excited that there might be an amazing sauce. Not that I can complain, they’re damn good for a chain restaurant.

  • Shelby Novak

    I saw online that you could order nachos at Chipotle if you asked nicely. I reluctantly asked the lady behind the counter and she laughed at me and asked what I was talking about lol. I was pretty embarrassed because everyone around me looked at me like I was crazy. It was no big deal, wish she wouldn’t have laughed! I turned beet red and sheepishly ordered my burrito lol!

    • Insatiable Booksluts

      Aww, that’s totally not nice of her! Nachos are awesome, and it wouldn’t have been hard at all for her to put toppings on chips!

    • crossfitprogram

      I get nervous about that! I have ordered nachos at chipotle though – but they are the ones like HackTheMenu http://hackthemenu.com/chipotle/secret-menu/nachos/ shows. They put the chips at the bottom of the bowl and then make a standard burrito bowl. Tastes good!

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